Relevance is the key to great art. If painting is not relevant in its day then it is pointless. But when that relevance transgresses the ages it is even more valuable to us.
William Blake is one of those greats whose message is as relevant today as it was 250 years ago.
The Tate Britain exhibition of Blake’s work was therefore a must as soon as I got home from Venice. This wonderful collection of Blake’s work covers the entire span of the artist’s works in drawing, painting, etching and bookmaking. From the opening moment to the last the viewer is held in awe at Blake’s imagination.
Albion c1793 opens the show, the pagan primordial man reinvented by Blake as representing England, his great love. But this man dancing on the edge of the abyss, surrounded by rainbows illuminating the world tells us of Blake’s great creativity, but also his challenge. He is the champion of freedom. Freedom from authority, freedom from slavery, independence from the restrictions of the academy. Blake was the original free spirit.
The enlightenment was the main progressive theme of the time and while Blake shunned science his art could be said to be the epitome of an enlightened mind. The exhibition takes you through his early struggles as an artist and engraver, his defiance of the establishment (Joshua Reynolds in particular) to his glories with The Pilgrims Progress and Jerusalem.
The Ashmolean in Oxford was the last time I saw a Blake exhibition in the UK and it was great to see his classics again together with Nebuchadnezzar 1795-1805, Newton 1805, and the Ancient of Days 1827. Nebuchadnezzar whose power and pride led to his downfall before God, Newton measuring the Earth from the bottom of the sea. The Ancient of Days is a fitting close to an exhibition I could have stayed in for many more hours, with many more fascinating and illuminating works.
William Blake is an example for us to allow creativity a free rein and be true to ourselves.
The exhibition continues in the Tate Britain until 2nd February.